Monday, June 30, 2008
Saturday morning, while her sister played with the kids in Peace Park - climbing trees and eating heaps of strawberry ice cream - she and David went to the the Hall of Remembrance to hear an Hibakusha (A-bomb survivor), Emiko Okada, speak about her experience. She was 8 years old when she saw the sky blast and rip open and turn her world into ashes, death and poison. The following is elin's scribbling notes as the translator spoke:
"I am here today to speak about my A-bomb experience but also about what to do about our future. I was 8 years old when the bomb was dropped. In 10 seconds the red area here on this map was completely burned - everything in a 2 kilometre radius from the hypocenter. The winds from the blast, heat rays and radiation were the 3 elements that destroyed everything. Radiation was scattered in a 4 kilometre radius. 70,000 people died instantly. Another 70,000 died by the end of 1945 (140,000!)."
She can not believe her ears even though she knows these figures, these numbers, these deaths, these truths. She has heard and read about them so often, especially here in Hiroshima, but this morning, this figure shocks her. She can not help but think of the few thousand dead on 9/11 and the enormous grief of the American people. But this is almost 50 times that and she only knows about one amazing Swiss doctor, Dr. Junod, who came a few days after the A-bomb with tons of medical supplies to help. Where was - is the American grief and guilt about this massive murder? Yes, we were at war with Japan, but Japan was ready to surrender and everyone knew that - at least everyone in the military. Even the scientists and military generals advised President Truman not to drop the bomb. Her mind soars in anger and empathy and she feels chilled. At least another 140,000 have died as a result of the American invasion and occupation of Iraq. The blood and suffering seems endless and looming.
"It has been 63 years since the bomb and 4,000 people are added each year to the registry of victims of the A-bomb (that is stored beneath the cenotaph beside the flame that will burn until all nuclear weapons are abolished.)
I had 6 people in my family and we lived 2.8 km from the hypocenter, behind Hiroshima Station: my parents, an older sister and 2 younger brothers. Day after day the war was being fought. The only information we had was from the radio, so we knew about heavy bombardments in Tokyo and Osaka. There were many planes over Hiroshima, but no bombings. The young men were all in the military. At the homefront, women, like my mother, were doing regular drill practices, defense drills with spearheads and fire extinguishers and water buckets. Middle school students were mobilized to work at ammunition factories, clothing depots and to demolish houses for fire lanes. Soldiers were the #1 hero to me then. Day after day I saw the soldiers off to war. In the 3rd grade I was evacuated to the outskirts of the city.
August 5, the night before, many planes flew over. It was a sleepless night. All of us were dressed in clothes that had been altered from kimonos because kimonos were not suitable for work. All boys were dressed like soldiers. On the morning of the 6th there was an air raid warning but then it was lifted. We were all preparing for the day's work. I heard the noise of a plane. I saw shiny airplanes flying over in the blue sky. With my 2 brothers I looked up and saw the shiny planes and thought, 'oh, planes,' and then there was an enormous flash; my mother was covered with blood from shattered glass. She took us and fled. In 10 seconds enormous flames came towards us. Those who didn't die instantly tried to flee to the outskirts of the city, crying, yelling for help as the headed towards the mountains. Children were crying for their mothers, 'mother, mother, mother,' in desperation towards the mountainside. People were badly burned, flesh and bones exposed. What I remember about myself is I was very nauseous and vomited. I saw 2 horses who died with their intestines exposed. People were dieing and calling feebly for help, 'water, water'. There was a charred four year old but the eyeballs came out drooping and I could not tell if it was a boy or a girl.
Nobody knew what happened.
My family: my 4 years older sister had left home that morning with a cheerful goodbye. She was supposed to be near ground zero. She never came back and the city burned all night and was levelled. After the fires subsided, I saw nothing but wasted remains of buildings and I could see all the way to Ugina port. My mother went out to search for my sister and saw many, many bodies everywhere, including in all the rivers. THE RIVER WAS RED. My mother tried almost 3 months to find her daughter, as far as Ninoshima Island (where some orphans were sent), to find some clues of her daughter, but THERE WAS NO TRACE. After months of searching she became very sick. I think she had a miscarriage. We stayed in a bamboo grove. My brother had burns and maggots bred in his injuries. There was no medicine, no doctors, no way to treat the injuries. THE ONLY TREATMENT WAS POWDER MADE OUT OF HUMAN BONES. Myself, I had bleeding gums around the clock so my mouth was always sticky. My hair fell out. I was tired all the time and had no strength. We did know what it was. People said it was a poison.
One by one people came back to burned ruins. We did not know about Nagasaki. Ten days later Japan surrendered and the war ended. There was a rumour that there would be no plants in Hiroshima for 75 years. We had no hope. Hiroshima - everything was burned. There was nothing in the ruins, nothing to eat. When I first saw the green grass growing alongside the railroad tracks, I thought it was a sign of new life and it gave me relief. Children who had been evacuated to outskirt temples were brought back after the war and were orphans. They hung out around Hiroshima Station. They did not know that radiation was everywhere. They had no food and were easily used by the wrong hands, gangs. Two orphans were taken by a temple but the rest had a very hard time to eat. THE WHOLE CITY WAS IN CHAOS FOR YEARS. 2,000 of the 6,500 known orphans were lost - nobody know what became of them. For several years after the war everyone was obsessed with hatred and misfortune - fighting and robbery were everyday occurances. After 6 years,people began to think that nothing would lead them to anywhere and they turned towards a positive way of living.
In the rebuilding process, from the river and earth, many things have been dug out - belt buckles, buttons. Parents who lost children, old parents, rush to see with slight hope if they can find a clue of their children. These parents are in their 80s and 90s now.
I do not only want to speak about the A-bomb. HOW DO WE MAKE A NUCLEAR FREE, PEACEFUL WORLD? There are 30,000 nuclear weapons in this world. Hiroshima and Nagasaki are not past events. They are about today's situation. Three years ago I visited India and Pakistan with a World Friendship Center delegation. Both countries have nuclear weapons and these weapon systems require lots of money so I thought these countries would be rich.But in New Delhi I saw people and animals lying on the street. I observed India's Independence Parade and it was beautiful and proud. The missile was in the parade and the people were excited and proud and cheering. Behind that children were looking for something to eat in the garbage. A girls' mother hit and kicked her when she did not find food in the garbage. I BELIEVE THE CHILDREN OF THIS WORLD ARE TREASURE. The next place was a temple that protected girls. Girls in India, beautiful girls in saris, stand along the streets as prostitutes. We went to a school for high-ranking families and the children were being taught that all other countries were their enemies,College students and adults believe nuclear weapons help to defend the country. Most of them know the name Hiroshima but not more than that.We met politicians and leaned about military expenditures and we said, 'please take some of that money to the children, for the peoples' welfare.' They said, 'We expect you foreigners to tell that to our government.' We said to the children, 'After India we got to Pakistan and we want you to make friends.' They said, 'They are our enemies. We can not make friends with them.' In Pakistan, it was worse than in India. There are many refugees from Afghanistan in camps that look like graveyards. Little girls with their own babies on their backs. No water. Little food. Pakistan sends weapons to North Korea for nuclear testing while children suffer.
How do we solve these difficult problems in the world? We would like to solve it with all of you. SPREAD LOVE IS OUR MOTIVE. THINK ABOUT PEACE." The hibakusha gives them each a paper airplane made by a bomb-orphan, now in his old age. When you spread the plane's wings a paper crane rests on the plane's spine. Swords into ploughshares, birds instead of missiles.
Needless to say she wants to return to the U.S. and work on having all NC mayors join the Mayors Conference for Peace that meets annually in Hiroshima. And even that seems like nothing, not enough. She is anxious to see her children, her treasure, and when she gets up above ground in the drizzling rain, there they are, being photographed by her sister against a tree. Madeleine tells her about how Guthrie explained that they keep the A-dome there so people will know what happened.
They go have lunch at Zucchini - a lovely Spanish tapas bar with a Japanese flavor. It was delicious: Spanish omelette, seafood salad, shrimp sizzling in olive oil, fresh bread, sangria and a big pan of chirozo paella. They went home to take a nap and both kids wet the bed. She rushes to change the sheets because sweet Deana will watch them while they go to the opening of Strings of Time and Dome: Artists attempts at the A-dome.
Strings of Time is one of the best exhibitions she has ever seen - large color photographs of clothing from the Peace Memorial Museum, back-lit. All of it is tattered or burned or singed or faded or worn or wrinkled. The photographer is Isiuchi Miyako and she was there in her mother's kimono, her grey hair wild. Her previous projects was called Mother's and it was a series of photographs of things left behind by her mother when she died. She wants to buy the photograph of the glove, fingertips darned, or the one of four and a half teeth still set in the gum, floating in a sea of blue. There is lots of blue in these photographs and she thinks about how much Carol Mavor would love this show and how much she would write about it. She is once again struck by the extreme beauty and pain of rendering horror with such spectacular aesthetics. You can see every thread, feel the cloth, imagine the little girls and big boys, mothers and fathers, doctors and soldiers who once filled these clothes, wore the round-rimmed glasses, pulled up those long white - now yellowed and blackened - socks. As Miyako writes in her one page essay, "For Things that remain Forever," in her gorgeous book: "For my photographs, I selected items that had been in direct contact with the victims' bodies...The objects that remained in the city after being subjected to a military and scientific experiment do not speak, they merely exist, but despite the horrors of the details, I found myself overwhelmed by the bright colors and textures of these high-quality clothes....They make me realize that the length of time that has passed since these items were converted into a historical testimony is approximately the same as which I have lived...It is difficult for a human being to survive for even one hundred years, but these objects have been bestowed with a longer existence. As parts of the largest scar the world has known, they will outlive us all, and never grow old. The relics filled me with a thousand emotions, there is no record of the identity of the owners of the two dresses (which were among the first items to be collected) but when I look at them, I visualize the beautiful young women who wore them, and it is with these thoughts in mind, that I publish this book."
She met so many wonderful people that night: the artist, the curator, other curators from across Japan, the artist's gallerist from Osaka who wants to see her work, and a film producer who grew up with American missionary parents in Japan, went to Yale and now produces films, the latest about kamikaze pilots who survived. She said, "the film really makes the parallels with the war in Iraq obvious but there is one dramatic difference. In Japan it was "war, war, war" and in the U.S. it is, "What war?"
Friday, June 27, 2008
Last night her next-in-line older sister Madeleine arrived from Hong Kong, bearing sweet and funny gifts: good morning towels; toblerone; orange gardening gloves; colored pencils; sand dollars; ginger candy. The kids were ecstatic to wake up and find her there. They decided to visit the Mitaki Temple because Miwako told her that it was one of her favourite places in Hiroshima.
They took a train and walked up to the temple, passing blue tile rooftops, bedding hanging out to sun, a hilly cemetery with all those vertical stones like upright bones. As soon as they entered the temple grounds, everything changed. It was magical, heavenly, mossy. Hundred of buddhas - looking up, grumpy, asleep and carrying babies rest on the wet green hills full of gurgling streams, springs and gushing waterfalls. Little bridges span red sandy creeks that are directed by hollow bamboo pipes. The entire temple grounds survived the A-bomb and the outrageous orange pagoda, built in 1162, was moved in 1951 to the grounds to comfort the souls of the victims of the A-bomb. They thought the orange pagoda was the showstopper but they kept exploring and walking up and around and as they walked, they discovered more temples and buildings and ponds and glistening spiderwebs. They took their shoes off to walk on the cold wet stones leading to a small but powerful waterfall. They only held their hands under it because it was cold and they only had sundresses on. She bought lots of small gifts at the temple counter - buddhas, soft leaves, wooden pagodas - from the most beautiful woman and her fat sleepy cat. The woman refused to be photographed. There was another sleeping cat upon a bright red bench at the foot of the door to the temple. They both photographed it. It was in bliss.
They took their shoes off and sat down in the temple, behind a man praying hard to buddha. He gently picked up the heavy stone buddha dressed only in a red bib and rubbed his tummy and forehead, chanting. He rang a bell several times, threw coins into a soft box, lit insence, held onto a string of beads and laid out paper prayers. He then collected his things and went outside to the mossy hill full of stepped buddhas. He placed his paper prayers in a thick stone trough and poured ladles of spring water over them. He then threw ladles of the cool water up to all the buddhas, giving them a drink, cooling them off. They found another little temple and they both rang the bell this time and sat down for a while and prayed. She thought about everyone n her family and hoped the best for them, for their health and happiness. She felt completely calm and in love with the world.
There are ashes from Auschwitz buried on the grounds, along with the ashes from A-bomb victims. A plea is etched in stone for all of us to integrate humanity more fully into lives. They both paused and spoke about the odd similarities between Japan and Germany, how their mother often said how Japan reminded her of her homeland, Deutschland.
She thinks the monks who live here must be very happy.
They are getting hungry so they walk down the hill a bit to a traditional building they noticed on their way up. Luckily it was a restaurant as they had hoped. But not only was it a traditional Japanese restaurant overlooking a turtle and carp pond, it was one of the best meals she had ever eaten: first a lacquered box served with a handmade painting arched over it, that when removed, reveals three small bowls filled with delights - a delicate cucumber salad, soft seaweed stems and a sesame fish. Next to the box is a porcelain dish of sashimi. There is always hot tea and cold water. Next comes the most beautifully shaped oblong bowl of cold soba noodles in a broth, topped with shrimp and that special Hiroshima leaf tempura, seaweed, daikon, wasabi, the most delicious mushrooms she had ever eaten, and a poached egg. Halfway through this feast, the waitress brings four o-nigiri, her favourite triangular rice clouds filled with surprises and wrapped in seaweed, and a bowl of warm mushroom custard. The custard is the only thing neither of them eat. They end the meal with two perfect triangles of watermelon, bite size.
They decide to walk the ridiculously long way back to the city center instead of taking the train. After over an hour of walking, the cool day suddenly felt hot and exhausting. The difference between the wet hill of heaven and the dry dusty urban maze is enormous. They finally make it to the international meeting lounge and she calls Kahori and finally has an appointment on Tuesday to begin making x-ray exposures and cyanotypes of melted bottles, roof tiles, steel scraps. They go to the thrift shop and she finds too many irresistible things: a bebe skirt and vintage swimsuit for Harper, a power ranger toy and gloves and peace tank top for Guthrie, several shirts and very cool pointy shiny green leather shoes, and the most amazing unbound "childrens books" from 1945. She imagines they were hung up in classrooms as teaching tools for storytelling, writing exercises. They are priceless but each one, at least 10 pages, 11"x14", is only 1$. She may go back and buy them all.
They get the kids who are excited to see them and to get popsicles. They pile into a taxi and Guthrie falls asleep and Harper talks a blue streak all the way home. The kids get into their swimsuits and David makes small pools for them out of dish buckets. They yelp and make puddles and get wet and end up fussy and hungry. She makes delicious spaghetti and meatballs. They drink sake and eat the toblerone for dessert. It is nice that her sister is here. She hopes she is happy to be here.
Friday, June 20, 2008
She walked over to meet Hiroko, a woman from the Peace Institute who just published her first book - only in Japanese - on the U.S. cover-up and mis/dis-information after the A-bomb on the dangers and effects of radiation. David met them for lunch and they went to a traditional noodle shop and they slurped their way through divine soba and udon noodles with daikon, plum paste, wasabi, scallions, shrimp tempura. Hiroko is married to a meterologist in Tokyo - yet another peace couple who live far away from each other. They see each other twice a month. Hiroko seems completely committed to getting the truth out there about radiation and the A-bomb.
Yesterday, elin met another Japanese woman for lunch, Nami. Nami had photographed her while she made rubbings at the old bank and they got to talking. Nami took her to a very traditional noodle shop where the soba comes on big wooden trays and you dip it in the broth with gelatinous seaweed and wasabi. When the elevator door opens, you take off your shoes and step into a tiny room of 4 tables and sit on cushions on the tatami mat floor. Nami takes an English class once a week so they had some trouble communicating but the noodles were superb. Nami works in an architecture office. She works 6 days a week, 2 weeks a month and 5 days the other 2 weeks - 9am-6pm. She gets 4 days of vacation a year. She lives alone, seems tired, but serene and alive. She took her to Starbucks afterwards to meet another friend, a glass artist, Yoko. Yoko offers to take her to her funky studio and they go. It is a four story corrugated loft studio - 2 rivers over - on Oyster Street. Yoko simultaneously plays very old Japanese music that could be a soundtrack for a horror film and a dvd about Leni Reifenstahl's trips to Africa as they look at Yoko's photographs from her trips to Kiribati Island and Burma. There are two cats and the windows are closed so it is a bit sticky and there is hot tea. It has been pouring out for hours. Maybe this is finally the beginning of rainy season. She feels dizzy but does not want to be rude. One cat wears a baby diaper crisscross clipped over his shoulders. Tailless, she was a stray that Yoko saved. The other cat, all black, reminds her of Bilou and she misses him. Yoko makes glass chandeliers, public sculptures and stained glass in churches, but also does performances in blacklights with polka dots and feathers - very Yayoi Kusama, whom they both love. This feels like surrealism in Japan.
Monday, June 16, 2008
withstood the A-bomb blast, where one
After dropping off the kids she quickly walks over to her favourite A-Bombed Eucalyptus tree in Hiroshima Castle park to collect more fallen leaves and bark that smell so damp and medicinal. She sent off all the ones she collected before - one in each brown envelope with "A leaf from an A-Bombed Eucalyptus Tree, Hiroshima, Japan," written across the front in pencil. Across the back were alternating texts: May all nuclear weapons be dismantled; May we bring an end to war; May we know a better world; The geiger counter ticks as I hold it out to gravestones in Hiroshima; There is no such thing as a good war or a bad peace; A young girl fans the ashes of her father in an urn, wishing to cool him; There is no cure for the atom bomb but to abolish it.
She had arranged a guided English tour of Peace Memorial Park for 10:30 in the morning with Michiko from the World Friendship Center. They meet in the lobby of the Peace Museum and begin their tour, their friendship. Once again she is struck by the kindness and generosity of strangers. The tour is supposed to last 1 and a half hours but they end up spending the entire day together. Michiko knows everything about Peace Park, the A-bomb, survivors, victims, Japan's history, the peace movement. She freely shares it all as a volunteer with the Quaker organization World Friendship Center - a non-political, non-religious organization. (She wonders how this is truly possible, especially for someone like Michiko - a Christian and anti-war activist.)
Michiko is beautiful. She can not believe Michiko is 60 years old. She looks no older than 40. Her energy is amazing, soaring, open and from the heart.
Most of the following is taken from her notes while Michiko talked. The Peace Park is very close to the hypocenter which is marked by a simple granite monument and explanation text in front of a hospital. It was a hospital before the A-bomb and it is still, rebuilt of course. The hypocenter neighborhoods were the most thriving. There were six neighborhoods, many temples and shrines, businesses, entertainment houses, and homes. After the A-bomb, when practically everything in this area was levelled and everyone died, there were few resources to rebuild. Hiroshima asked the central government to restore Hiroshima. Four years later, in 1949, the Hiroshima reconstruction Law was passed. The Peace Park is an expression of lasting desire for peace. Human bones were found everywhere, unidentified, they were cremated.
Hiroshima was occupied until 1952 by the U.S.-Allied Forces. People came back to Hiroshima because they knew nothing about the radiation. The occupying forces maintained a high level of censorship and incorrect information. A-bomb survivors built about 450 shacks that had to be destroyed in order to make Peace Park. It took time to remove these shacks but the government built simple homes for the survivors that ultimately were removed as well in the 1970s for museums and shopping centers.
They stand at a Chinese Parasol Tree that survived the A-bomb elsewhere and was transplanted to Peace Park. The obvious injury faces away from the hypocenter because trees must be replanted in their original direction. There is also a second generation Chinese Parasol Tree beside it. The quick regeneratiom of plants and trees, seemingly perfectly healthy, was an encouraging sign to the survivors after the A-bomb. She is struck by the large and beautifully shaped leaves and hopes she can do a rubbing of the damaged trunk of this tree and have a leaf to x-ray and make a cyanotpype of. Survivors are now planting seeds of A-bombed trees. She wonders if the seeds or trees have been tested for radiation.
Supposedly Hiroshima City tested the area on October 1, 1945 and they were surprised by the low level of radiation - probably due to the typhoons shortly after the A-bomb that washed so much away - lives, shacks, soil, poison. Hiroshima City now claims that the level of radiation in Hiroshima is "as low as somewhere never bombed." She does not believe this.
Michiko has a friend who is a Hiroshima Maiden - a woman severely scarred by the A-bomb. This friend, who was 15 at the time of the bombing (so is now 78), went to RERF for tests in 2006 and they discovered a contaminated tooth. She donated it to RERF. She has had breast and thyroid cancer, a stroke, and such bad keloids that she has undergone over 15 operations at Mt. Sinai hospital. She lost her fiancee, was bullied and discriminated against. While at Mt. Sinai, she stayed with a Quaker family who apologized to her for their government's criminal actions. That apology helped to cure her emotionally.
There is a monument to the poet Sankichi Toge. Even though the occupying forces forbid the use of the word "A-bomb" on monuments or otherwise, Sankichi Toge managed to publish poems and magazines against the A-bomb, renouncing war. In 1950, while in a hospital, Toge heard that Truman was thinking about using the A-bomb again - this time against Korea. He responded by writing A-bomb poetry, raging against war. He died during one of many operations. His fountain pen and hair are buried beneath the monument. (She plans to go find his books tomorrow.)
The Monument to Prayer simply says "Comfort Souls," which is what many of the monuments say. Michiko says there are three reasons for the monuments: to comfort the souls of the dead; to remember; and so we never repeat this episode. The Prayer Monument was erected on August 15, 15 years after the A-bomb to console the victims of the A-bomb: military servicemen; officers; policemen; teachers; mobilized students, midwives, nurses...praying for peace.
There are 258,000 names of A-bomb victims registered under the cenotaph. Each year on August 6, new names are added. The Flame of Peace is not an eternal flame because it will only burn until nuclear weapons are abolished. Hiroshima has 20/20 vision - a vision of a nuclear weapons-free world 75 years after the A-bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. 2,000 cities outside of Japan participate in the annual conference of Mayors for Peace - an organization started in Hiroshima. During the 1970s and 80s Peace education was thriving. These days, Japan is becoming more militaristic and patriotic and the numbers of visitors to the Peace Park, especially of schoolchildren, are dropping.
The A-bombed gravestone of a government official is haunting. The stone ball on top of the gravestone was thrust upon the ground, half buried. Engraved on the ball is the Japanese character for SKY. Below it is WIND, but you can only see half of that word. The rest is buried. The Monument to Korean Victims of the A-bomb is impressive - tall, solid, standing on the back of an enormous stone turtle. In Korea they believe the dead pass into heaven on the back of a turtle. The turtle faces in the direction of the Korean Peninsuala - geographically so close to Japan, but worlds away on many other levels.
They decide to have lunch. Michiko wants to take her to a traditional Japanese restaurant and they end up back at that amazing restaurant she had dared to go into by herself her first week here. But this time they sit upstairs, on the floor, in a gorgeous dark and cool wooden room. They feast on a bowl of fish in tomato sauce, barley topped with taro root paste and seaweed, miso soup, cool Chinese noodles and carrots, salad, pickled vegetables and cold tea. It is a perfect lunch and she is happy to be able to take Michiko because she had forgotten to bring her book as a gift today. After lunch they find the FedEx/Kinko's to mail the A-bombed leaf-filled envelopes to NY for the Audacity of Desperation exhibition. It takes a long time and many forms to mail it so that it will get there by Wednesday morning at 10:30. She has no idea what it will cost.
They walk back to the Peace Park and visit the basement of the resthouse - one of the few buildings to withstand the A-bomb. Only those who speak Japanese and who know about this basement can go. You must ask and fill out a form. One man survived the A-bomb in this basement. He had gone down to get some papers. At 8:30 - 15 minutes after the A-bomb, he managed to be standing on the edge of the bridge, observing burning hell. You must wear a hardhat to go into the damp and dark cellar. Walls are cracked, large puddles soak the cement floor, rusty doors and wooden barriers stand as evidence of history, as witnesses to it. Some people have left paper cranes and other offerings here. It is haunting. She feels the weight of survival.
They come out into the blazing light and sit on a bench near the Sadako monument - by far the most popular in the park. People are always there - singing songs, taking pictures, ringing the golden crane bell, leaving paper cranes, praying, crying. Michiko asks her if she wants to know the real story of Sadako. Of course she says yes, but she wonders what she is saying yes to. Michiko had met Sadako's father 5 years or so ago, before he died. He tells her about how Sadako's mother held her tight in a boat as they tried to escape, but the black rain fell and fell, soaking Sadako's kimono. The black rain was radioactive poison. He told her that even though every story of Sadako - and there have been many; her story has been translated into over 30 languages - claims that she almost managed to fold 1,000 paper cranes - 1,000 being the magic number that according to Japanese tradition would allow your wish to come true, she actually DID fold 1,000 cranes and had begun to fold another 1,000! They talk about this decision - to tell the whole truth, the real truth, or half the truth. Does one offer less hope than the other? She is convinced that the whole truth should be told. The truth only makes Sadako stronger and the story even more moving, devastating, real. Folding 1,000 paper cranes will never cure leukemia, but one girl can change the world.
Saturday, June 14, 2008
The Audacity of Desperation is an exhibition (curated by Sarah Ross and Jessica Lawless) of take-away projects and performative conservations responding to the spin of the upcoming election. The Audacity of Desperation is an art exhibition, political action, and on-going dialogue. This show confronts, expresses and unravels states of desperation. Artworks by activists, artists, enthusiasts, and very concerned people, are made in editions with the intention of free distribution to audiences. In this way, these artworks will be activated outside of the exhibition space and in domestic spaces, on bodies, clothes, bags, and in public spaces.
Why we are desperate?
In November 2008 something is going to change. The worst president ever will finally be voted out of the White House. But, as the infamous writing on the wall reads, IF VOTING CHANGED ANYTHING THEY’D MAKE IT ILLEGAL." (Read more about it via the link under Current Exhibitions.)
She will collect 30 leaves from A-Bombed trees and place each leaf in an envelope upon which will be written: A Leaf from an A-Bombed Eucalyptus (or Willow or....) Tree, Hiroshima, Japan, 2008. She has not decided on what else she will write on the envelopes but it will be in the spirit of peace - a call for the end of war and the end of the US government's apocalyptic vision and imperialist-militaristic- capitalist strategies; messages to candidates and voters in America, the land of bombmakers and bombdroppers.
Harper is still asleep after 3 hours of napping. David and Guthrie have gone out for Okonomiyaki - a unique regional dish of a thin pancake topped with cabbage, fish or meat, noodles, egg and a spicy sweet sauce - with David's co-workers. She and Harper will make dinner when she wakes up. She must be tired from the sun today as they took trams to the Peace Park and walked around the A-Dome, rang the peace bell and the golden crane bell inside the sculpture to Sadako, and walked through the Hall of Remembrance. On their way to the thrift shop to buy the kids a toy, they found a playground with a wide slide and functional swings. At the thrift shop, Harper picked out a bag of little girl toys (collectibles), and Guthrie found a Power Ranger belt that lights up and makes noise. The kids clamored for Old McDonalds so they found themselves eating burgers, fries and milkshakes at the crowded McDonalds. They took a taxi home and Harper has been asleep ever since.
Friday, June 13, 2008
Barthes Forbids Tourists from Writing Haikus
(but here are two):
Cell phones, umbrellas,
everyone has something
This tourist haiku
will do nothing but pass time.
This is what she wants.
She can not believe that after rubbing two A-Bombed trees and beginning her hungry way home for lunch, she runs into Emi and Myles on their way to Emi's parents' restaurant. She tags along to see where it is so she can try it some day and then Emi invites her to join them! She feels so lucky and even more so when they step inside the perfectly Japanese restaurant where her father, mother, brother and sister-in-law work. They eat bowls of rice topped with Anago - river eel - with dishes of scallions ans wasabi to add if desired, pickled things, little bowls of soup with miniscule mushrooms, floating herbs and seaweed, small dishes of tofu and bean sprouts and an amazing bowl of sardine sashimi served with ginger paste, and green tea from her grandmother's land in the country. She must go back with her husband. It was delicious and lovely. Myles ate lots of eel and rice and even ate a sardine! He seemed to be having a happy 3rd birthday. Over lunch Emi tells her that her grandfather started the restaurant after the war. He had been in Manchuria when the bomb was dropped and he lost everyone, absolutely everyone in his family. She tells Emi that he was lucky to have been in Manchuria but they look at each other and both know that it is very unclear if he was lucky or not. What does it mean to survive everyone you love, to lose them all in a criminal flash? Her brother asks her what she likes about Japan and she says, "the food and the people." They will be going back to Boston next week. She will miss them. It is strange to run into people you barely know twice in such a big city. She had walked past her parent's restaurant several times without knowing it too. Uncanny.
Thursday, June 12, 2008
Today she kept whispering to herself, "I love Japan," as she rubbed her soft paper with black lumber crayons over the old Hiroshima Bank floors, cracked marble teller counters and walls. Somehow the bank withstood the A-bomb - one of the only buildings to do so - and was actually used as bank until 1992. She wonders why the security guard suddenly got angry with her at the bank as she was about to do another rubbing of the floor. He was the same one she photographed the week before and who had been so friendly and had given her approval today to do more rubbings. He angrily crossed his arms into a forbidding X and said, "too much time. too much time." She packed up her paper in her big black tube. Coincidentally, her favourite thrift shop - in the basement of BOOK OFF where lots of people read Manga books in the aisles - is directly across the street. After making seven rubbings of cracks, fissures, holes and a 1960 monument to HAIR from the Hiroshima Hairdressers Association, she finds 3 more incredible thrift shop dresses: a long denim industrial comme des garcons apron type dress; a bright orange cotton dress with shoulder pockets and metal buttons down the back and a full skirt; a foo-foo green and black cinched short dress with beige silk showing along the hemline. She can not believe her luck in finding so many dresses that actually fit her in Japan. She has a delicious sushi lunch at Nobu and takes a taxi home, feeling quite spoiled and accomplished.
She is struck by Ariel Dorfman's email - a forwarded piece published in Salon.com yesterday,
My Paulina, my country - During the making of a film about my exile from Chile, I finally met the anonymous woman who saved my life during Pinochet's murderous reign. She realizes that Chile is not Japan is not Germany is not Nicaragua - is not so many places that have been decimated, leveled, brutalized, torn apart and rebuilt upon the bones and blood and ashes of so many civilians - that each city, nation, body is historically specific and unique, and yet, there is a similar and familiar experience of these places: the need to mark history, to make visible the invisible, to make absence present, to remember and reconcile, to find hope in all the darkness, to realize the impossibility of representation and reconciliation, to witness the continuing trauma and aftermath - decades later. Some form of capitalism has taken root in every one of these places, a justification of expenditures (and profit) outweigh lives and truth. Perhaps it is only similar and familiar to a tourist, someone who did not live through the torture and atrocities - someone like her. She believes she would have the impulse to make rubbings of floors and walls and trees in Guatemala, Iraq, Vietnam and Chile, if she was there. She is anxious to get these rubbings into the darkroom to print through them like negatives, to watch the black become white and the white cracks and holes become black, a glowing dark ghost of a place, barely illuminated, but there and yet, not there.
She hasn't been carrying her cameras around with her. She just can't focus on more than one project at a time. So she misses some fabulous moments. Out of every 100 pictures she takes though, she only loves about 3. So maybe she isn't missing much but experiencing more.
The family takes a taxi from the YMCA to Senda Park, a park they haven't been to before, to meet Emi and Myles - a beautiful Japanese woman from Hiroshima, married to a Burmese man in the States, who teaches Japanese at MIT and her 2 year old son - for a picnic. Myles turns 3 tomorrow. They are thrilled to discover that this is a new park with an expansive playground - no rusty or broken steel pipes, no puddles beneath the swings and no cat poop at the base of the slide ladders. This playground has extremely long and curving slides that roll, a rope tunnel, swings, stone funnels and cones for climbing, bridges, wooden hills and more. They eat sandwiches and bento boxes, plums, pretzels and apples. All of sudden Myles is nowhere to be found and they all start to panic, but especially Emi. "Myles! Myles!" They all shout. Guthrie is told to sit tight on top of the hill with Harper as the three adults go on a wild and hysterical hunt. Emi calls 911 and then David finds him - all the way across a huge soccer field, wandering up the stairs. David and elin had never seen such fear on anyone's face as they had seen on Emi's. They all hugged and caught their breath and went to play ball. Myles had no idea that anything out of the ordinary had happened. They all sang happy birthday to him and then took a taxi home for a bath and orange and strawberry sorbet.
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Photographs in the Peace Memorial Musuem
Volume 55, Number 11 · June 26, 2008
By Gayle Greene
In response to Cancer: Malignant Maneuvers (March 6, 2008)
To the Editors:
There was a strange turnaround in Richard Horton's review of Devra Davis's The Secret History of the War on Cancer [NYR, March 6]: after several paragraphs describing her arguments, making them sound cogent and strong, Horton comes to Sir Richard Doll, revered for his work on cigarette smoking and lung cancer, and seems to slip on a banana peel, landing in a surprising position, concluding that Davis's book is a tissue of "vague exhortations" and that she "has chosen the wrong targets." Horton has granted that Davis has a point, that the inexplicably high incidences of cancer in some parts of the world suggest environmental influences. He seems convinced by her analysis of the "misplaced emphasis on treatment over prevention," mentioning the strategy of "doubt promotion," the casting of aspersions on scientists who don't toe the party line. Yet he concludes that the real reason cancer is on the rise is that people smoke and eat too much. It's a familiar ploy, this reduction of a politically charged issue to a matter of individual self-control—it is "doubt promotion" at work. What surprised me was that his review had seemed so favorable, until he came to Doll.
If Horton is shocked by the "vitriol and innuendo" about Doll he hears in Davis's book, he should hear the things I learned about Doll while writing The Woman Who Knew Too Much: Alice Stewart and the Secrets of Radiation. I interviewed Doll while writing about Stewart, the physician and epidemiologist who discovered that the practice of X-raying pregnant women, which was common in the Forties and Fifties, doubled the chance of a childhood cancer. Doll and Stewart moved in the same Oxbridge circles, sat on the same committees and editorial boards. Both started out as physicians, then moved into epidemiology after the war, each making major discoveries in the Fifties that helped shape epidemiology so it came to include cancer as well as infectious diseases. But after Stewart went public with the dangers of radiation, she plummeted to obscurity, while Doll, credited with discovering the link between lung cancer and smoking, rocketed to fame and a knighthood.
Immediately after Stewart published her findings, Doll launched a study to prove her wrong. For nearly two decades, he succeeded in keeping her findings from being accepted, thereby allowing fetal X-raying to continue (one doesn't like to think how many cancers that may have caused). This was the decade when the arms race was at its height and the US and UK governments were reassuring us we could survive all-out nuclear war; nobody wanted to hear that radiation was as dangerous as Stewart claimed. But she dug in her heels and built an extensive database, the Oxford Survey of Childhood Cancer, that established beyond a doubt that she was right. Yet when Doll came to Oxford as Regius Professor, in 1969, he announced (publicly) that "there was little there in the way of epidemiology research," and made her so unwelcome that she took a position at another
university. Science in those days was men talking to men. Stewart was several years older than Doll, she'd been raising children and grandchildren and doing her research, too busy to be jockeying for position in a competitive male world; a genial granny-like presence, she was easily brushed aside.
The contrast between the prosperous path of Sir Richard and the hand-to-mouth career of Alice Stewart could hardly be more poignant. It's a cautionary tale to any scientist who's considering taking an unpopular stand. Doll spent his final years at the prestigious Imperial Cancer Research Center, where he had the best researchers working under him. Stewart moved north to Birmingham, getting her research done by sheer energy, charisma, and the capacity to inspire the enthusiasm and loyalty of those working for her—managing to publish more than four hundred studies in refereed journals.
In the end, her findings prevailed, and doctors ceased the practice of fetal X-rays. But so long a shadow did the esteemed Sir Richard cast that my book was never published in England. A left-wing British press turned it down because it was sent to a reader who had the same apoplectic reaction to it that Horton had to Davis: How dare she say such things about this man? Another British publishing house accepted it but withdrew the offer on the advice of their legal department.
After his death it came out that Doll was receiving payment from Monsanto (quite a lot) all the while he was doing the studies that cleared vinyl chloride of an association with liver cancer. I'd have thought that would have laid to rest this overblown veneration. But no, Horton defends him, suggesting that he may simply have been "naive." I can tell you, whatever else he was, he was not naive. He was charming, canny, and political to the bone; it was Alice who lacked guile. He saw to it that he had the last word, writing the entry on Alice Stewart, after her death, in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, using this venue to say she was "embittered" and that her "reputation as a serious scientist was...greatly harmed" by her research on the Hanford workers, the studies that won US nuclear workers government compensation for radiation-related cancers.
He came to her funeral. At a country church outside Oxford, a small group of family and close friends assembled, and in tottered a frail, old man unrecognized by most of those present. Whatever for? Some said it was conscience, most saw it as a political show. But who knows? I could tell he was keen, in the interview, to convince me he'd behaved honorably toward her: "I've done nothing but try to help her," he said. Perhaps he needed to persuade himself. I have no idea what story he told himself, where is the line between the lies a man tells himself and the lies he tells others, nor do I know what fueled his animosity toward her. Differences in their view of radiation risk played a part, no doubt. Sexism, too. And rivalry, I'd bet. I sensed when I interviewed him that she, in her early nineties, was a lot sharper than he, in his late eighties. I told her so.
"Well, I always was!" she snapped.
It appalls me that this carefully crafted public persona continues to determine the way cancer is thought of, that this ghost is conjured to discredit Davis's excellent book.
Professor of English
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Empire of Signs. She then leisurely strolls through town finding throat lozenges and baby soap and a little gallery of Japanese prints. The owner, Mitsumi, pulls out her own sumi ink paintings to show her and says that it makes her very sad that so many people know Hiroshima because of war and only make work about war and peace. She is more interested in abstraction.
She then goes to her meeting with Steven Leeper, Chairperson and Director of of the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation - the first American ever to hold this position. They immediately become friends because they share friends in common - Arjun Makhijani and Alice Stewart. He really wants to meet her husband to discuss RERF and David's research findings. They eat a bento box lunch in his spacious and sky-high office with his charming and brilliant "secretary" Miwako Sawado and they all talk about Hiromi Tsuchida's photographs, Hiroshima Mon Amour, RERF, art and her projects. She promises to help him find a room and audience in Chapel Hill next month for his U.S. tour with an A-bomb survivor to discuss "The New Nuclear Danger." Miwako explains that each monument is owned privately by a different person or entity and she will get her access to make rubbings of each one she requests.
Steven introduces her to three Japanese museum staff and curators to assist her - Kahori Wada and Mr. Ochiba and one other beautiful woman. They sit at a table and she is astounded by their hospitality and generosity. She can not believe when they bring out files with color photographs of melted glass bottles, burned roof tiles and ceramic insulators and ask her which ones she would like to use in her experiment. It takes Steven a while to explain her project to them - that she wants to place these "A-bomb exposed" objects directly on the x-ray film for a long exposure to see if the film registers any radiation. She expects it will - some sort of abstraction, explosion, trace, mark, scattered pattern of contamination, still, even after so many years. Steven explains that no one - especially RERF or the city of Hiroshima - wants her project to "succeed". They have spent a lot of time and effort convincing people that Hiroshima is now safe. RERF claimed - and still does - that only people within 2 kilometers (recently changed to 3.5 kilometres) within 2 weeks of the A-bomb have cause for concern. (Citizens need two witnesses that they meet this criteria to receive a passbook, essentially a card for free health care.) He tells her about a recent delegation of American woman. Two of them stayed in Tokyo because they were pregnant and were worried about being exposed to Hiroshima. He suggests that she use a lead box during her exposures to rule out any background radiation. She needs to get some highly sensitive blue x-ray film as soon as possible so she can begin this experiment.
Miwako spends three hours with her and Steven introduces her to the World Friendship Center (WFC) - a non-political and non-religious group - who will give her an English tour of all the monuments and memorials in Hiroshima. As they sat there, the WFC gave the Peace Culture Foundation over 200,000 yen for the Burmese and Chinese victims of recent natural disasters. It is lead by a new American volunteer every two years. It is currently run by two very sweet philanthropists - Kent and Sarah Sweitzer. She quietly moves over to the corner of the room during the photo shoot so she is not directly in the middle of this important transaction. She can not quite believe that she is perched up in this glass room overlooking the Peace Memorial Park with such amazing organizers when she has walked down below so many times as a tourist. The Sweitzers introduce he to Michiko Yamane who will give her the tour of the monuments. She leaves them at the the International Meeting Hall where she reads the Japanese Times - her first serious look at the rest of the world since their arrival. It is no better or worse than the last time she checked. She donates a copy of her book to the library there.
As she walks to try to find the "basement of lots of stuff beneath Books Off" she feels truly lucky. She smiles to herself in her new flea market diagonal green and brown striped sun dress and is completely surprised that she remembers where she had seen Books Off during the first few days here and when she walks down into the basement to discover the world's best thrift store - huge, clean, organized and full of Japanese things. Within 5 minutes she finds the most beautiful Japanese sun dress with an asymmetrical hemline, ribbon neckline and a red and blue lantern pattern for 15 dollars. (She happily spends it because she just sold two of her bomb drawings to a trustee-collector at the Cincinnati Contemporary Art Center where 30 of her bomb drawings are on show as part of the exhibition Uncoordinated: Mapping Cartogaphy in Contemporary Art.) She realizes she can only mostly look today because it is time to go get watermelon popsicles for the kids and pick them up from school. She will come back.
Sunday, June 8, 2008
Her lunch with the curator was splendid. Yukie had worked at the New Museum for four years, where elin had worked in the early 1990s. They knew the same wonderful security guards. She is the new head curator and has done some fast and great changes: transformed the name and logo from the incomprehensible HCMCA to Hiroshima MOCA; scheduled the openings at night instead of at 9:30 in the morning; painted the drab fabric walls white; opened a little book and gift shop with Kusama and Yanagi stuff; but most of all she will open her first big show while they are here – about the A-bomb that will include the black and white photographs of the Peace Memorial Museum collection by Hiromi Tsuchida (who will be at the opening!) and newer ones, in color, by a woman photographer. It strikes her how much more organically political everything is here that is related to art. Yukie talks about how the A-dome has become a capitalist tourist attraction rather than a true symbol and beacon for peace – this is also part of the premise of her upcoming show. She likes Yukie a lot. She is from Tokyo and says that the food, especially the fish, is far superior in Hiroshima than in Tokyo. The fish in Tokyo are big, from the Pacific, tasteless. Hiroshima has island fish, smaller, more delicate, tastier. Yukie explains that the hill she lives on and that the museum is on is considered the border between everything that was destroyed and rebuilt and destroyed and rebuilt again and the older sections of this region. She also explains that one of the reasons the city built Hiroshima MOCA on the hill was to reclaim it as their own – in opposition to RERF. Yukie plans on having tours through RERF as part of the upcoming exhibition – a rare event for RERF. It thrills her that Yukie is also perplexed by all the attention that artists like Rachel Harrison gets. “Why?” she asks.
The family and Deana walk downtown that night for a religious festival of sorts. It is really like the state fair or a carnival except that instead of hot dogs there is squid on a stick and okonomiyaki on a stick. They try squid fried in a dough ball but they throw it away because the dough is not cooked and the squid is too chewy. They next eat the okonomiyaki on a stick (a thin pancake topped with cabbage, vegetables or meat, sauce and an egg) which is good. They also have those delicious triangular rice puffs stuffed with seaweed and spices and wrapped in seaweed. The kids get candy apples and Harper has so many random people laughing because her entire face is sticky red. They also get cotton candy. It is really crazy crowded with women mostly dressed in traditional Japanese clothes and lots of make-up and the funky wooden shoes with the toe socks. They run into Emi and Miles, the nice lady from Boston and her 3 year old son whom they met on the plane over to Japan. They plan to get to together to play. They decide to try the “moon bounce” but as they pry open the door and the air comes blasting out at lightning speed, Harper freaks out and hides behind Deana. Guthrie goes in and immediately begins screaming and crying because he bumps into someone much older and bigger and it really is a nightmare. They people running it have no clue that they are trying to rescue him and David finally just has to take his shoes off and goes in to retrieve Guthrie. They take a taxi home.
On Saturday, the family decides to take an adventure and go to the famous island of Miyajima. They take a train and a ferry boat. On the boat they devour a sampling of the trademark Hiroshima pastry of a slightly puffy maple-leaf shaped cookie filled with various fillings: vanilla or chocolate cream, cheese, sweet bean. They are immediately stunned by the small, tame and wild deer everywhere. One of them eats half of a lady’s map and tries to chew on a boy’s shirt. Everyone pets them and they roam freely through the tourist crowds. They stroll through the low orange maze of the shrine-temple – hovering just above the sea. The kids pour holy water over their hands with the wooden ladles and collect shells on the small beach on the edge of the sea where the world heritage site gate stands in the water – bright orange, built in the 1500s, a structure that hundreds of people take pictures of every day. There are paper prayers and stone buddhas and wooden shrines and flags everywhere. They stop for lunch and even though Harper will not sit still and spills rice all over the floor and everything costs twice as much as it should, they enjoy it because Guthrie is gobbling up clams and eel on a bowl of rice and she finally has her divinely chilled soba noodles with a simple broth with wasabi and scallions. Harper has a pork cutlet and French fries which makes everybody laugh because it is the biggest serving at the table for the littlest one.
They go to the aquarium next and are mesmerized by the red octopus, the eels crammed together in the clear pipes as if they are stuck, the long lone eel with a bright yellow stripe along his back, the big electric eels, eels, eels, eels, the gorgeous sea horses, an albino turtle, huge turtles, perfectly white and hairless dolphins who keep pressing their cheeks up to the glass, sharks, jellyfish and a diver cleaning the glass inside the tank in a full scuba suit and goggles. The kids could have watched him all day long but they had to have ice cream and see the sea lion show. The sea lions were incredible – like a circus performance. The audience sits in a semi-circle ring of bleachers above a pool and wet stage and the sea lions come out with their master. Who would have ever thought that sea lions speak Japanese? They danced and clapped and caught rings on their noses, leapt through hoops, turned off the alarm clock, waved goodbye and were generally human. Everyone loved it.
They probably should have gone home after that as David wanted to do but she felt since they were there, why not stay and see more? They tried to walk up to the cable cars but when they finally made it up the steep rocky incline, it would have cost a fortune for them all to ride up to the top for a view. They headed back down towards what they thought was the bigger beach but it was getting hot and Harper fell asleep so they sat on a stone wall in the shade near some sacred stones and statues. Guthrie and she hiked up the stony hill and were surprised to see the tall, ancient and impressive orange pagoda waiting for them at the top. They cut through the island’s narrow streets of shops and homes and thought they would be close to the beach but they ended up right back at the ferry terminal so they decided to just go on home. She was sunburned and the kids were exhausted.
Today David looks online and discovers that it is a flea market day so they decide to go on another adventure. They take a 30 minute train ride and walk another 30 minutes on an industrial road that runs alongside a river and a dam. Finally David asks a lady with his map where the flea market is and she points in the opposite direction. They turn around and finally see the tents down by the river – right where they were when they got off the train! They walk down to the scattered and forlorn tents and are pleasantly surprised by the bargains and the funky collections of stuff. They all buy random things and have a great time. The kids get bubbles, a tiny sword, an Anpaman (Japanese character like Thomas) backpack for Nico but Harper quickly claims it, balls, a plasma light and lots of funky kids clothes. They end up leaving past naptime so they are all cranky and hungry as they hike back to the train station. They come upon a COCO’s restaurant – very western but perfect for the kids. David and Guthrie share a pizza. Harper has chicken nuggets and fries. Deana has a quesadilla and fries and elin has crustless triangular sandwiches with a small pot of yogurt topped with jam. They take the train and taxi home and go food shopping down and up the hill to fill their empty cupboards. David makes fish which is way too fishy for them all so they eat lots of rise and edamame.
She is reading Barthes and wants to copy entire passages into this diary but is too tired. She is feeling less inspired tonight, almost comfortable but never quite, oddly and awkwardly homesick. She misses fresh vegetables and her kitchen, the big yard and wading pool, cocktails and friends. She likes missing this all, appreciating what is faraway, her home. But she simultaneously feels so lucky to be here, immersed in this place and yet hovering above it, literally, emotionally. She should do more rubbings tomorrow – of the bank floor and wall, A-bombed trees, monuments. She is not sure she needs to photograph more dandelions but she probably will. She has been given permission to photograph the Peace Memorial Collection for one day but she is going there on Tuesday to meet with the Director of the Peace Culture Foundation and will try to push it. She really wants to make long x-ray exposures of the objects which can not be done in one day. But she will do what she can. Most people are very discouraging about her idea of making x-ray exposures of objects because it is unscientific. There is no way of knowing if the radiation is just “background radiation” or residual radiation from the A-bomb. She wonders if this really matters? David does not think it matters. Radiation is radiation. And radiation in Hiroshima takes on a whole different meaning regardless of its origin, doesn’t it? But she still does not have x-ray film or a translator. The Geiger counter DID tick tick tick as the held it out at a gravestone nearby…..
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
Yoshie says she respects her “sensible approach to the problem of Hiroshima.” She wants to apologize to this city, give lives back, plant flowers. But she is only human. She is thinking of calling her project:
“The Problem of Hiroshima”
Flowers for Hiroshima
Apologies to Hiroshima
Today she collected fallen leaves and damp bark from the A-bombed Eucalyptus tree at Hiroshima Castle. She cried when she walked around to the back of the tree and saw it literally weeping thick burgundy tears, bleeding. (She must go back with her good camera to make better photographs.) She made a rubbing of the trunk. One Japanese man walked by and said “beautiful.” She also did a rubbing of the burlap ropes tied around the A-bombed Willow tree and snapped off a little branch to contact print on cyanotype paper. She managed to do lots of rubbings today: the 1930s wooden floor and walls pockmarked with shards of glass at the old bank – one of the only remaining buildings after the A-bomb – now an exhibition center. The current show is of a million paper cranes heaped and hung and arranged in aisles; the memorial plaque to medical doctors at the time of the A-bomb.
She reads about “horseweed” growing wildly shortly after the A-bomb. This is what people boiled to eat out of necessity. What is horseweed?
Wednesday, June 4, 2008
She returns to the A-bombed Eucalyptus and takes lots of photographs of the bloody stigmata in the trunk of the tree. There are actually several, all eye shaped and oozing. She walks and walks today – all the way to Hiroshima Station and supposedly on a “historical-cultural path” to shrines and temples. She only makes it to one temple and feels so out of place, not knowing what to do, how to enter or be. She walks back through the train station and has a yummy Japanese lunch: soba noodles, shrimp tempura, triangles of rice stuffed with unknown delights and wrapped in seaweed, cold tea. She walks all the way home, even up the hill, in the bright bright sun. She is sweating but takes a cool break in the temple cemetery at the base of Hijiyama Park’s hill, her hill. Stone buddhas with red bibs; tall gravestones and wooden markers, flowers, shrines, narrow steep paths, fountains, women clearing and replenishing the flowers. She is painting more leaves from her walk and has begun taking photographs of dandelions about to blow away. She thinks of Carol’s essay again, “like a dandelion blown,” and thinks she may take photographs of 1945 dandelions for Hiroshima: small, fragile balls of wishes, wispy, tiny stars, blossomed, blooming, so temporary.
Friday, June 6
David thinks she should figure out the average number of “blooms” on each puffy dandelion head so that each photograph of each dandelion would represent that number of victims of the A-bomb, rather than photographing 1945 dandelions – which is too many and could defeat “the power of the small gesture,” as Susanne puts it.
She is waiting for her watercolor to dry so she can take it with her to her lunch meeting with the contemporary curator today. She made a CD of 22 photographs of the dandelions to give her.
She is amazed that her children are eating seaweed salad, miso and corn coup, milk dumplings, salmon, rice cakes, edamame, tempura and grilled fish. They miss their friends and pets and home but they seem to be enjoying this adventure. Guthrie has a wrestling partner at school, Kenta, and he comes home with bruises and happy scratches. Harper has almost stopped crying in the mornings when her mother drops her off. Mommy just has to smother her with kisses and hugs while promising watermelon popsicles at the end of the day and have Guthrie take her hand down the shoeless hall to his classroom for a while.
Andrew sent her Barthes’ Empire of Signs and she began gulping it down last night. She underlines most of it and writes in the margin. What is opposed to representation and writing – just being? She feels as if she is missing half of what Barthes is writing – the half about emptiness and Zen, signs and language. Maybe she is missing all of it but she relates to it – the fictive, foreign country, the absence of recognizable symbols, the impossibility of the Orient.
Lucy sent her the box of big thick black lumber crayons. She plans to do some big rubbings next week of monuments.
She is still waiting for the cyanotype paper and has been collecting plant samples. She needs to walk around with a book in which to place fragile leaves with lots of holes in them, mutations, decay, dust.
Sunday, June 1, 2008
She is dismayed and inspired by Misao Okabe’s work that she gets to see at the Hiroshima Museum of Contemporary Art in the group show Hiroshima, Mon Amour: lightboxes with transparencies of the rubbings of he did of Ugina Station, the rubbings themselves – hurriedly done, framed below framed plant samples. She finds it beyond uncanny that she arrived at such similar forms to try to respond to Hiroshima as a Japanese man has. She does not appreciate his aesthetic which seems sloppy, hurried, a bit untended to, but she loves his impulse. The piece she loves most of all is called Stroke on the Road in Hiroshima, August 1987/88 – 4 huge panels of paper or canvas covered with thick shiny graphite. She assumes these are also rubbings of roads in Hiroshima. Before she even knows that these are by Okabe, David says, “These remind me of that piece you did of the tar-whipped black rubber.” She had thought the same thing. She remembers when she made work out of dresses and little black and white photographs of the body in graduate school – so much like Annette Messager’s work, another artist she was not yet familiar with – and when she had the chance to meet Annette, she told her about how it could appear that she was copying her. Annette said, ”There are always unnamed movements in art, things in the air. Do not worry about it.” And then too, she was oddly surprised that she had arrived at such similar forms to address similar ideas as someone from a different country.
The Hiroshima Mon Amour show is excellent, with work by Yayoi Kusama, Alfredo Jaar, the Marukis, Masao Okabe. It is dark, serious and minimal. She will have lunch with the head curator at the museum, this week. She is feeling much better and less worried about comparing her work to Okabe’s. She is waiting for cyanotype paper to arrive from the states so she can make sunprints of various flowers and plants of Hiroshima, especially leaves or bark or twigs that have fallen from A-Bombed trees. Yesterday Harper kept kissing the A-Bombed trees, saying, “I am sorry. I wish I could take you home.”
She has begun a series of tight and bright watercolors of spotted leaves she finds on her daily walks – three to a page. She is taking too many photographs. She is waiting for the interpreter to return her email so that she will have a translator to explain the many Japanese-only memorials and monuments. She will also feel better and less conspicuous if someone is with her while she does the frottages. The first 2 she has done – of the plaque that reads “Memorial Tower to the Mobilized Students” and the low and high-relief sculpture of the mobilized students, specifically the panel – 1 of 4 – of girls at sewing machines, were tests. She does not like them as rubbings but can picture them as haunting silver black photographs – the texts and images in a large sea of deep black. She has yet to begin the radiagraphs because she is waiting to have access to radioactive materials and objects. Once this access is secured, she will order x-ray film and begin some exposure experiments. David says that RERF has stored some materials here – bricks and other architectural materials they took after the bombing for tests. She is inspired being here and troubled.
Last night Deena babysat the children so that they could go out alone. She took her husband on a circuitous route to the sushi restaurant so he could see some of what she sees during the day. Even she was surprised by the city at night – no longer drab concrete but alive with neon and a bustling nightclub, pick-up, feasting and strolling crowd. They had the best sushi they had ever eaten at Nobu – a tiny restaurant with 5 tables and seats at the bar. They sat at the bar and had beer and cold sake, a caterpillar roll (eel, cucumber, avocado), a California roll (shrimp, crab, avocado and masago), maguro, tamago, unagi (sea eel) and anago (river eel), masago and yellowtail. The sushi chef made the waitress cry because he scolded her for bringing them the bill with the food. As far as she could tell, this is proper procedure in Japan. So far, that is what they all have done. The chef gave them a small pot of custard on the house and it was perfect. They walked most of the way home but took a taxi up the hill.
She feels as if she is in a movie much of the time, especially when she takes taxis to and from the kids’ school. She has never taken so many taxis. It makes her feel spoiled, wasteful and ultra-American. Maybe this is particularly so because half the time she asks to go to the inaccessible American post-war dormitory at the tippy-top of the hill, past the compound with a security gate. She is judgmental about all the other Americans making “base runs” to the U.S. Military base nearby to pick up macaroni and cheese, hot dogs and other American stuff. She would much rather eat the fresh local fish and fruit, the best strawberries she has ever eaten, udon and soba noodles, rice crackers and seaweed, sake and red snapper carpaccio.
Guthrie says that “Japan is much more fun than North Carolina.” She cut his gorgeous curls off tonight because everyone thought he was a girl and he kept getting so sweaty. They bought the kids some treats today: a cinnamaroll doctor kit, a light-up noisemaking sword, sandals and a polka-dotted smock top for Harper, cookies and chocolate covered pretzels. They took the kids to the Childrens Museum for Science which was free. The kids loved climbing through the maze and standing in the room of mirrors, pretending to fly a rocketship and pushing buttons that make things go and whir and light up.
Professor of Peace Studies Matuo Okamoto called on Friday night and she invited him up for dinner. He laughed and laughed, so surprised to be invited to dinner by a stranger during the first phone call. He took a taxi up with a bottle of French red wine and they immediately like each other. He has a Ninja beard and a black beret that he never takes off, just like her father, and Harper wants to kiss him after a little while. In his late 70s, he has a gentle and all-knowing manner. He and David share quite a few friends and Matsuo had just had tea with Yuki Tanaka with whom she had had noodles the day before. Matsuo had also just met with the mayor that day to assist in his annual Peace Declaration. Matsuo had once wanted to be a missionary and describes his earlier self as a fundamentalist Christian, but now he is a full-time scholar of and for peace. He coined the term “peace studies” in Japan. He and his wife finally live together after 20 years apart for professional reasons. He shows them how to get television programs in English and how to use the rice cooker. They cooked a humble meal that was almost embarrassing – not having been prepared for this spontaneous dinner: fried chicken, rice, eggplant and a simple salad of cucumber, the sweetest tomatoes, onion, avocado, green pepper and an oil and vinegar dressing with a fresh watermelon for dessert. He did not comment on the meal.
What she is most struck by these past few days is the utter disappearance of whole cities and people, structures and nature, not just by bombs and war, the A-bomb and natural disasters, but by deliberate and calculated progress, development, profit and growth. Most of the time, if she ignores the signs being in a language she does not understand, she could be anywhere – in New York or Lyon, Los Angeles or Charlotte. Concrete, neon, western-style everything, even on the other side of the world - in “the East”.